I studied the Arthur 'myth' and the Arthur 'fact', when I was at university and know Mort de Arthur etc back to front. I don't enjoy or like the over romanticism of the Arthurian 'legend' (a la Victorians) preferring fact-based fiction, fiction rooted in known historical facts, wars, landscapes, people, places, events. What Mary Stewart has done in this trilogy is remarkable really. If you can imagine the perfect blend of the Arthur story, straddling fact AND fiction, it's there in this trilogy.
There is so much to love in these books. And I mean REALLY love. Beautiful writing, deep, complex characterization, gorgeous landscapes, magic, realism, magic-realism, the human conditions of love, sorrow, birth and death. It's all there and done in such an accomplished way. Her characters retain their Welsh/Celtic heritage (hurrah), the dialects of the various tribes are respected (yoo-hoo), the landscape and geography of Britain in this period of history rings true. But the real star of the books is not Arthur but Merlin, whom like a previous reviewer, i too confess to being a little in love with. He feels real, believable, lovable, scary (at times) intelligent, a great intellect, funny, empathetic, a healer, a scientist, a traveller, a musician and poet, a lovely lover. Perfect man really!
Bernard Cornwall in his own majestic trilogy Winter's King really does come close to a similar achievement, but for me was lacking the warmth of Mary Stewart's effort. While Cornwall is all masculinity, battle and gore (although very very well written) Mary Stewart's is just better. That's not to say she avoids the blood and the gore (am thinking of the three thieves Merlin met on the road and Arthur's summary justice.) it's just she has layers and layers of story and character and plot.
One tiny tiny criticism. While I loved her characterisation of the main characters, I felt some of the secondary characters fell short. While we know loads about say Bedwyr (knight and best friend) or Ralph (servant and then miller) and even towards the end Ninume, I really wanted to know more about the sisters Morgan and Morgause. I gave it five stars because it deserves it. I recommend anyone who loves history blended with believable fiction to read this and for anyone who is interested, even remotely, in the Arthur stories.
I finished the book earlier and am now a bit sad. What can I read that can match this?